Day 28: Morro Bay State Park to Oceano, CA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 23, 2014

Day 28: Morro Bay State Park to Oceano, CA

It's the Man Who Clears His Throat Constantly clearing his throat constantly that announces the arrival of morning. Soon it's followed by the drone of the giant golf course lawn mower, the crash of all dozen dumpsters in the campground being emptied into a garbage truck, and that fucking tour bus making another loop through the state park for reasons we still can't figure out. Ah, the sounds of the coast!

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We ride just above the dozens of narrow canals that run through the tide lands at the south end of Morro Bay. Birds call out from over the water and we speed through clouds of bugs so thick that it feels as if someone has tossed a handful of dirt or sand all over us. Beyond we can see untouched sand dunes glowing yellow despite the fog. Of course backing all of this is the constant rush and stink of traffic, even though we're no longer on Highway 1. Ah, the sounds of coastal California!

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Then we turn off onto a side road and the chaos disappears. We crank up and along winding roads away from the water, where we see barbed wire fencing but no cattle, broad areas of public land but no people, and the road is still paved but there are hardly any cars. It's just the sound of the wind swishing through the dry yellow grass on the shoulder and echoing as it passes over our ears and continues on toward the ordered rows of bean plants below. It's the most unexpected and wonderful surprise.

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But soon the traffic returns, and then picks up in force as we leave behind the agriculture of a valley and pedal next to the apartments and golf courses and shopping centers of San Luis Obispo. Because camping options are limited or ludicrously overpriced for the next hundred miles or so, we know that today will be another short ride by default, so we take advantage of the burritos and sodas and public library of the city and don't make our run back to the coast until late in the afternoon.

I need the break. I know that a lot of people who travel by bike like to start early, crank hard to wherever it is they're going, and then spend all afternoon and evening eating and relaxing and making sure their belly buttons are spotless and clean or whatever, but I like to travel slow, take pictures, write about what I see and experience and feel, and roll into camp later rather than earlier. This challenge with this setup is that by the time I stop riding there's only an hour of daylight left, and as soon as darkness falls sleep muscles its way in and I'm all but powerless to stop it. That means that with each passing day I fall a little farther behind on the like 400 things that have to get done when you decide to bicycle over long distances while carrying everything you own, and working, and writing about and taking pictures of every vaguely interesting thing that happens along the way. Over time, as we continue to ride without taking days off, these small things build up into a grayish cloud of worry that trails behind our bicycles during the day and hangs above our tent at night like a balloon. And the longer we go without stopping, the bigger the cloud becomes, and the closer to us it moves. I don't know how to keep this metaphor going, but the point is that we spend several hours in San Luis Obispo so that I can crank out some work, check some stuff off the list, and keep the worry at about the level of blue, if you're going by the Department of Homeland Security's threat level chart.

We cross back to Highway 1 through Price Canyon. Kristen says it reminds her of Thailand, how the trees run thick and green up and over all of the hillsides, and how the spaces between the hills are so narrow that it's hard to tell which direction the road will take on its path through them. But of course — and I know this is broken record kind of stuff now — the traffic never stops, so what might have been a fun dash back to the coast with the ocean breeze blowing cool up the canyon turns into a job, something workmanlike, an obstacle to be overcome.

When we crest a rise we see it again, the Pacific Ocean, blue and calm and endless. But soon it's washed from view by the long rows of homes that cling to the ridges above Pismo Beach, the outlet stores and strip malls that stalk the 101 freeway, and the semi-permanent RV communities so full of motorhomes that the reflection off all the fiberglass is near-blinding. Just so it's clear: I get it. The climate here is perfect all through the year, the views along the coast are spectacular, and there's something about living among palm trees that somehow feels good. As Americans we are pre-programmed to love all of these things, so it doesn't surprise me that the cities are the way they are here. But the result is that unless you're in a vehicle it so often feels like a beige-colored disaster.

I knew all of this before I left, and I thought about it a lot while planning the route we'd take on this part of our adventure, but I have the same problem that all bicycle travelers seem to have, and in fact need to have: optimism; constant optimism. The challenges of touring are so varied and never-ending that none of us would ever make it across even one state line without a steady stream of the stuff pulsing through our heads. But the downside of optimism is that it can give you these sort of blind spots where you don't fully consider what you're jumping into, and it's not until you're in the middle of a tough or aggravating situation that you realize you set yourself up for it a long time ago while sitting at home, in front of your laptop, in your underwear. That's where we are now with the crush of cars and the stranglehold of civilization. Even though we knew it was coming, somehow it's still a surprise.

Spawning grounds.
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Pismo Beach runs into Grover Beach, which runs into Highway 1 and becomes Oceano. That's where we find an RV park that claims to be a county park and settle in for the night at a hiker-biker site at the far end of the place, past at least fifty campsites, all of which are empty because summer has passed and it's the middle of the week. Another rider once described the place like this:

"When I say 'right next to the highway' what I mean is we could have sat on our picnic table and flicked boogers at the passing traffic and scored a direct hit on the windshields every time. Those direct hits would have been numerous because the traffic is constant in both directions."

This is not an exaggeration. If there's a crash on the highway tonight, there's a good chance the wreckage will sail through the sad little fence behind our heads and come to rest on top of our tent.

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When there's a break in the traffic noise it's filled with the double beep of the door buzzer at the mini-mart across the street that sounds whenever someone enters or exits. Later in the evening, a few Amtrak trains roll by on the railroad line that runs maybe fifty yards beyond our feet. And we make sure to lock our bikes to the picnic table, because Oceano doesn't exactly give off that friendly small town feeling.

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At least the RV park showers run hot, the dinner that Kristen makes for us is both healthy and delicious, and we feel strong and ready for the last few days of riding that will bring us to Los Angeles. That's the kind of optimism we need to make it through places like this.

Today's ride: 34 miles (55 km)
Total: 1,245 miles (2,004 km)

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